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Published December 18, 2011 | Psychology

PowerPoint Redux

About ten years ago, Vanier College offered a Ped Day workshop on PowerPoint. I'd heard about PowerPoint, so I thought I'd go see what it was like. I was blown away. I could see immediately how much better this was than writing on the blackboard or than using an overhead projector. Among other things, I found I could cover more material in the same length of time without stressing my students any more than when I wrote on the blackboard. And it's so much more interesting, for both me and the students!

Video Highlights of a Workshop on PowerPoint

PowerPoint allows me to do some things that help students learn :

  • Some concepts lend themselves to the use of colour, which can help me link certain features and can help the students remember the material. For instance, I give students a little mnemonic about proactive interference which I talk about in Introduction to Psychology. I put the word "proactive" in the colour purple, and then use purple in a few other places to link the example to the concept.
  • I can also use graphics to help them remember things. In my Human Sexuality course. I talk about Krafft-Ebing, a Victorian doctor. He did detailed interviews with sexual criminals back in the 1800s writing up the case histories in a book called "Psychopathia Sexualis" which is still in publication today. My students never remembered what it was until I found a book cover with a really eye-catching graphic on it, a scantily-clad woman tied up, and put that image on one of my slides. And, you know what! Now they remember what "Psychopathia Sexualis" is! The graphic content really helped the students' learning.
  • When I'm using technical terminology, I put it in orange which means pay attention and learn this word. I can also use sounds in my PowerPoint slides to call attention to things that otherwise may get overlooked or to help them remember an idea, especially if it runs contrary to what they probably think is true.

Video Highlights on Selecting Pictures

I've been to a couple of other PowerPoint workshops over the years, and I also asked questions of Computer Science colleagues, as well as getting a book from one of them, but mostly I'm self-taught. I've discovered a lot of things just by experimenting.

I found when I started using PowerPoint that one lecture took me anywhere between four and twelve hours to prepare. The low figure was for a fairly straightforward presentation, no fancy animation and not too many graphics. A lot of the time got used up making decisions about which items to put on the slide, what color and size things should be, etc. After about three years, I began to get bored with my slides, and decided it would be nicer if they had more graphics and more interesting backgrounds. When I had started, I used graphics only if the graphic was educational. But, when I revised my slides, I used graphics also to be decorative, to make the lecture a nicer experience.

Adding the decorative graphics and fancy backgrounds took another 4-12 hours per lecture, and even now, I'm constantly tinkering. I make small changes every semester (to make the slides better, of course!), and sometimes I make other changes if I finish the previous lecture at a different point than I did the last time. Since I always start my class with one slide that has new information on it for students to start writing notes and then do review slides covering the material that I talked about last class, both the preview slide and review slides may have to be altered to reflect a different starting place.

Video Highlights on Editing Image Tips

Although I am aware of the practice, I don't make my PowerPoint slides available to students. One reason is that my slides don't have nearly as much information on them as the slides shown in the video clips of a workshop in this article. I might have bulleted points where one bullet says "many people", another bullet says "later" and the next bullet says "originally". That's not very useful for students to have.

Secondly, on those slides, I have information hidden that does not show when projected because I've typed it in the same colour as the background. When I print the slides, the notes appear, so if I need to remind myself of the information that I'm going to cover in class, I have it on paper but the students don't see it. If I were going to post my slides, I'd want to strip all that out, and that's a lot of work, so I don't post my slides.

And I do find that with PowerPoint, I need to remember my cues for what comes next. Things don't necessarily appear on the slide in a linear fashion, and if I don't have the cues fresh in my mind, I may stumble in the classroom. Therefore, I review the whole presentation shortly before my first class of the semester, actually spending more time getting ready for class with PowerPoint than I did before when I used the blackboard.

The results, however, make all the work worthwhile. I have more fun, the students really like my slides, and they think I'm very well organized. And I find that they learn better, which is what it's all about.

Use our comments section below to share your PowerPoint experiences with your colleagues!

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